15.9m people – Nearly a third (31%) of adults in Britain – have had mental or physical health problems because of their living conditions during lockdown, a YouGov survey has found.
It has been reported that people are seeking medical help or taking medication for mental health issues, not getting enough sleep, depression or stress, physical ailments or the physical effects of COVID-19 itself.
Five leading housing organisations have launched Homes at the Heart campaign in response to these findings: the Association of Retained Council Housing, the Chartered Institute of Housing, Crisis, the National Federation of ALMOs, and the National Housing Federation.
Their aim is to warn that the country’s housing crisis is making lockdown even more unbearable for millions and to urge the government to put funding for new and existing social homes at the heart of the coronavirus recovery.
Health problems rising
New figures released by the campaign revealed the true shape of the country’s housing situation during lockdown:
- A record 3.7m people are living in overcrowded homes, including a record 1.6m children
- 30,000 people are spending lockdown in a home that consists of one room, and more than 3,600 children are spending lockdown in a home made up of two rooms
- 62,580 families are living in temporary accommodation, the highest number for 13 years
- Millions are spending lockdown in homes that are damp and mouldy, insecure or pushing them in to debt
The lack of space and cramped living conditions has played a big role in causing health problems for these huge numbers of people during lockdown.
More than half of those (52%) who said their homes weren’t big enough said they’d suffered health problems:
- More than one in 10 (11%) of all British adults said they felt depressed during lockdown because of a lack of space in their home
- One in 20 (5%) of everyone who said they had a lack of space said this had led them to seek medical help or take medication for their mental health
- Almost one-fifth (19%) of those in cramped conditions said they hadn’t been able to get enough sleep because of the lack of space
The findings of the survey follow a recent review from Public Health England into why BAME people have been worst hit with mental and physical health problems by the pandemic.
The survey found issues of overcrowding and housing conditions contributed to the increased spread of coronavirus among these communities.
The sector responds
Commenting on the survey’s findings, Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF), said: “For many people, our homes have been important places of refuge and safety during this pandemic, but for countless others across the country home has felt less like a sanctuary and more like a prison.
“Inadequate housing and cramped conditions are making lockdown even more unbearable for millions of people right now.
“Homes have been the centre of our lives during the pandemic and as the country starts to re-open, the government must put homes at the heart of the country’s recovery too.
“The government have said they want to end rough sleeping, rebuild communities and help the economy bounce back.
“Putting more money into building new social homes, and improving the quality of existing homes, will help achieve all of these things – more jobs, a boost to the economy, and affordable, high quality places for people to live and communities to thrive.”
Gavin Smart, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has, more than ever, highlighted the importance of having a place we can call home – a place where we feel safe and secure, that has the space families need to work, learn, and play.
“Lockdown has shown us this simply isn’t the case for many people.
“We believe funding for new and existing social homes should be at the heart of the country’s recovery from the virus, helping to tackle homelessness and overcrowding, providing secure and affordable housing…and ensuring the delivery of homes fit for the future.
“The economic benefits are many. Building at scale can kickstart the economy, delivering jobs and training and driving growth and ensuring everyone has a place they can call home.
“Putting housing at the heart of our efforts will help build a stronger recovery works for everyone in every community across the country.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The coronavirus outbreak has laid bare the dire housing situation for thousands of individuals and families across the country.
“It’s also meant we’ve never had a better understanding of the value of home – and the many reasons why it should be available to all.
“As part of the Homes at the Heart partnership we will build on the progress made in tackling homelessness during the outbreak.
“Urgent investment in social housing would be a major springboard towards ending homelessness for good, ensuring that everyone has somewhere safe and settled to call home.
“Without this, we risk people returning to our streets or stuck in unsafe, temporary accommodation for months, if not years.”
Eamon McGoldrick, managing director of the National Federation of ALMOs, said: “ALMOs have been at the heart of the pandemic response at a local level.
“Working closely with their parent local authorities, they have supported communities through COVID-19: maintaining essential services, helping vulnerable residents, housing and supporting homeless people.
“ALMOs work with some of the most deprived communities across the country and have therefore seen the wider social and economic impacts of the lockdown on those communities first hand.
“We believe that by investing more now in building new social homes, improving existing social housing and meeting our carbon targets for housing the government can help the country recover quickly and sustainably.”
John Bibby, chief executive of the Association of Retained Council Housing, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has once again brought the connection between poor, overcrowded housing and health and wellbeing into stark relief.
“A legacy of the pandemic must be a renewed determination to ensure that everyone has access to a decent, affordable home.
“I recognise that home ownership is a genuine aspiration for many, but it is not the answer for everyone.
“In many areas of the country house prices and rents in the private rented sector are unaffordable to those on modest incomes or insecure employment, leaving many in poor, inadequate housing with little disposable income.
“The housing market is broken, and if the Prime Minister is to deliver his promise to unite and level up the country then we must fix the broken housing market and build more social-rented housing to ensure that everyone has access to high quality, affordable homes built to excellent design standards.
“Investing in social housing infrastructure will not only help tackle health inequalities but will save the taxpayer money in the long-run and provide an immediate economic stimulus as we emerge from the impact of the pandemic.
“Lower, more affordable rents will also ensure that households have more disposable income to spend in the wider economy and/or to save for that first step into home ownership.”